Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Word for the Day: Vision

I am glad to be done with the first three chapters of Revelation with all those letters to churches in places I’ve never heard of.

Today in the readings for mass we move on to chapter 4 and the last great episode in our Christian Scripture.

“I, John, had a vision of an open door to heaven . . . ”

Can I hear you say, Whoa?

Nothing matches this. So much tries to come up and touch it.

Again, I am forced to ask myself why I took a forty-year detour away from Christianity. Why in the late 1960s, I was more interested in Aldous Huxley’s Doors of Perception than the doors in John’s vision. Why I did not recognize then, as I recognize now, what a strange and wonderful document the New Testament is. Collection of documents, really.

Beside John’s opium dream, the Gospels, with their ho-hum Transfiguration, Resurrection, and Ascension are as basic as the Six O’Clock News. So that happened. OK.

And then come the Letters, mostly by Paul, who is a spiritual warrior, but for all that a practical man: reeling in the far-flung communities of the early Christianized world.

But then John, showing us “what must happen afterwards—

“A throne was there in heaven, and on the throne sat one whose appearance sparkled like jasper and carnelian. Around the throne was a halo as brilliant as an emerald. Surrounding the throne I saw twenty-four other thrones on which twenty-four elders sat, dressed in white garments and with gold crowns on the their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder. . . . ”

Nothing matches this. So much tries to come up to it and touch it: visions of Muhammad, Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” the Great and Powerful Oz, “Visions of Johanna,” the latest U2 arena show . . . There’s nothing like Revelation.

A couple of years ago I wrote an e-n-d-l-e-s-s series of posts on Romano Guardini’s The Lord. You can click on the link in the list of topics at left to see just how endless. The number beside the topic says (93). As in 93 posts.

Endless—boring, insufferable—or not, I stand by what I wrote on Revelations 4 and Guardini’s treatment of it.

So why [I wrote] did we think [in the late 1960s that] we had to reinvent not just the wheel but God and heaven too, when all along our religious tradition had given us a clear vision of these and more?

Romano Guardini contemplates the first visions granted St. John after he steps through an open door (of perception?) into heaven. RG paraphrases Revelation: “In the unapproachable light of heaven stands a throne. He who sits on it is like a blazing jewel. No further details are given—neither as to form nor face; everything seems to be lost in the radiance. All that is said is that Someone thrones there in costly glory.”

More details are given—a rainbow “like to an emerald,” twenty-four Elders seated around the central throne, lightning and thunder issuing from the throne, the Cherubim in the form of four animals, and so on. But what RG seems most interested in, and spends the rest of the chapter on, is the idea of throning itself“The modern,” he writes, “no longer knows what a throne is, nor how one sits on a throne, how one thrones.

We always have to be in motion, always doing. We sit in meditation, those of us who are so inclined, to stop movement and action, external and internal, to come to perfect rest and relaxation. But the Someone who thrones at the center of heaven in Revelation is not a tranquil Buddha-like figure. This enthroned God is not nothingness, but everythingness, a figure of infinite power and creativity. “God does not speak; he silently contains the meaning of all things. God does not act, but all power to act comes from him.” While seated on a throne.

And so we have another chapter in The Lord that makes me seriously wonder why you and I spent so many years of our lives chasing visions and adopting new, novel spiritual and meditative practices, when all along we had the answer seated in front of us.

Can I hear you say, Amen?

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